Education activists meet at "Addressing Racism—Strategies for Systemic Change" panel discussion in Boston on November 17th. 

"At the count of three, SCREAM."

That's what John Jackson suggested public education advocates do in response to the surprise election of Donald Trump.

Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education was one of the headliners at an event in Boston celebrating the organization's twenty-fifth anniversary. The event included a panel discussion titled, "Addressing Racism— Strategies for Systemic Change: A Post-Election Analysis."

This was the nation's first prominent event addressing the election outcome from an education justice perspective, and few, if any, of the panel participants had anticipated a discussion about the incoming Trump administration. (Disclosure: Schott is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network, which I direct.)

Opposition to Trump from students in K-12 public schools and on college campuses has broken out across the country. Thousands of students walked out of classrooms and filled streets with blocks-long protest marches. Their messages, as reported in mainstream media and prominent news outlets, reflects resistance to discrimination against immigrants, women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals.

Those themes were on the minds of the panelists at the Schott event, who sought to place the election results in the context of historical struggles for education justice and civil rights.

Ted Shaw, a law professor and director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill suggested that Trump is likely “worse than Reagan,” but argued that the history and demographics of the United States are on the side of progressives.

"This is not the only president we've elected who exhibits racism and sexism," Jackson reminded the audience.

Jackson suggested the audience take heart in the recent victories in Massachusetts and Georgia where well-funded ballot initiatives to expand school privatization efforts were shot down by grassroots organizing and street-level voter engagement.

Also, election victories for eight women to the U.S. House of Representatives and four to the Senate were positive notes, Jackson mentioned.

"The march toward justice has never been linear," Jackson explained. "We're only doing better today than we were fifty years ago because there were leaders who stood in the gaps" between progress and prejudice.

"People need to be in the streets," was the consensus among panelists, and a frequent refrain in the discussions was the need to "capture the energy of young people."

"Old folks don't create revolutions," Shaw noted.

Fortunately there was a young person among the panelists, Gabriela Pereira, a student organizer in the YOUNG Coalition that organized high school student walkouts in Boston and helped lead the effort to defeat ballot initiative Question 2 to expand charter schools in Massachusetts.

"Without the energy of young people, nothing is really going to happen," Pereira said. "We've been the ones out in the streets warning others about the lack of funding in public schools and the growing privatization movement."

Pereira described how she and her peers started their organizing.
 
"We have energy, but we also need support from our communities and our educators," Pereira explained. "We need them to reach out to us and give us spaces to talk and collaborate … And we need some money."
 
Panelists also agreed, "We can't only be on the defensive."

"Most people who voted for Trump wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail at the system because they're pissed," said Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz. "We have to offer something better."

"Young people leading the way in protest is very important," Jackson contended, "but we also need to ensure they are engaged in the democratic process."

Jocelyn Sargent, Director of the Hyams Foundation, suggested organizers gather at a national venue every year to share best practices for advancing the movement.

Another point of agreement among the panelists, who included Rinku Sen, the president and executive director of Race Forward, was that organizing has to focus at state and local levels first.

Both Jackson and Chang-Díaz suggested that the ballot wins in Massachusetts and Georgia would be good models for grassroots organizing in other states, especially in Southern states that have long resisted progressive change.

Jackson concluded the event by exhorting the room to "keep learning, keep fighting, and keep loving each other."

Jeff Bryant is the Progressive Education Lead Fellow and Southeast Regional Fellow. He is also director of the Education Opportunity Network and associate fellow at Campaign for America's Future. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jeffbcdm.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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